How the Chicano Movement Championed Mexican-American Identity and Fought for Change

Before the 1960s, Mexican-Americans faced discrimination in the U.S. West and Southwest. The treaty ending the Mexican-American War in 1848 guaranteed citizenship to Mexicans who chose to remain on territory ceded to the United States. Yet Mexicans in America were treated as second-class citizens. The U.S. government did not honor the promise of land grants, leaving many descendants without a means to support themselves.

Not White, But ‘Chicano’

Throughout the early 20th century, many Mexican-Americans wanted to assimilate into American culture. Some even tried to gain civil rights by fighting for legal recognition as whites. The rise of the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s saw the end of efforts to assimilate. Mexican Americans began to actively embrace their heritage.

By adopting the term “Chicano,” activists celebrated their Indigenous and African roots.

Leaders in the movement pushed for change in multiple parts of American society, from labor rights to education reform to land reclamation.

Chávez Leads Fight for Farmworkers’ Rights

César Chávez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (became United Farm Workers, UFW) in California to fight for improved social and economic conditions. As a child, Chavez had experienced the poor conditions of Mexican migrants. In 1968, he supported a strike for grape workers, organized by a predominantly Filipino labor organization. Chávez, Huerta and the Filipino-American organizer, Larry Itliong, worked together to win contracts between the union and the growers.

Tijerina and the Push for Land Reclamation

The land itself was an important economic asset with spiritual significance for Chicanos. Civil rights activist Reies López Tijerina led a movement to reclaim land confiscated by anglo settlers in violation of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Tijerina’s group held protests and even staged an armed raid on a town in New Mexico in an attempt to “reconquer” properties for the Chicano community.

Student Movement Embraces ‘Aztlán’

Poet and activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales organized Mexican-American students across the country. In 1969, about 1,500 Hispanic students attended the National Youth and Liberation Conference in Denver. They identified a land called “Aztlán,” which according to Aztec folklore extended across northern Mexico into the U.S. southwest. They adopted the concept of Aztlán as a spiritual homeland and wrote a plan calling for mass mobilization and organization.

The Chicano Movement won many reforms: the creation of bilingual and bicultural programs in the southwest, improved conditions for migrant workers, the hiring of Chicano teachers, and more Mexican-Americans serving as elected officials.

Source: How the Chicano Movement Championed Mexican-American Identity and Fought for Change
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